Private Hammons funeral stood out in 2013

Brian Brown, ReporterAs 2013 draws to a close, it seems only natural to reflect on the year’s highlights.

This year, challenging stories were common, but one stands out above the rest from my reporter’s desk: the May 29 private funeral of John Q. Hammons.

During a press-day morning interview with John Q. Hammons Hotels & Resorts General Counsel Gregg Groves and Vice President of Sales and Revenue Management Phill Burgess, I was told national hotelier Hammons had been buried quietly in a private ceremony that included members of his extended family. This was shocking, as I had spoken to several folks who were professionally close to Hammons and who had wondered aloud when services would be held for the 94 year old.

John Q. Hammons died May 26 at 94.

John Q. Hammons died May 26 at age 94.

So, as I helped put the finishing touches on other news stories, including the article on the cover that looked back at his life, I had to track down what felt like the biggest story of my life with the clock ticking.

That May afternoon, I was able to talk with Hammons’ long-time right-hand man Scott Tarwater, who was dismayed to hear his friend of more than 20 years had been buried privately three days after his death. Tarwater said he had been getting calls from hotel industry professionals around the nation wanting to know when they could fly into Springfield to show their respects, and now he’d have to share the news that the Queen City entrepreneur had been laid to rest.

Tarwater said Hammons had long talked about his desire to be buried on the grounds of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame east of town. But in the days of his declining health, it was another Hammons confidant, JQH Hotels CEO Jacquie Dowdy, who handled his personal and business affairs. Groves said Dowdy assisted members of the hotelier’s extended family to plan the funeral in his hometown of Fairview, as Hammons would have wanted. Groves declined to name the family members who helped Dowdy make that call, and Dowdy herself didn’t want to talk.

With the help of a couple of people who knew Hammons well, I was able to talk with Janet Ballew, niece of Hammons’ wife Juanita K. Hammons, who was upset and emotional. She said no one had contacted her family to let them know her uncle had died – they had learned of his death from the news – and no one from the company had told them about the funeral either. Juanita Hammons, who is suffering with Alzheimer’s disease, and John Q. had no children together. Ballew, who is the daughter of Juanita’s brother, said it was her family who had long been close to the hotel magnate; it was her family who should have been consulted about funeral plans, not distant unnamed relatives of Hammons.

Finishing the story in the waning hours of a Thursday press day, we sent out a breaking news update, complete with a provided picture of the grave, and placed the story on page 2, behind the article detailing his impact on the Springfield business community. The story would go on to be our most viewed article online in 2013.

Hammons funeral

A picture of Hammons’ gravesite was provided to SBJ.

With lawsuits still in play related to Hammons’ transition of power to Dowdy and her management of the hotel company, there’s a good chance my most challenging and impactful story in 2014 could again revolve around the straight-shooting entrepreneur.

Something tells me he would at least appreciate his name living on.


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